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From the instant Robert Mueller’s report landed yesterday, a nation of legal experts and analysts began tearing into its 432 pages, skipping past the heavy black ink of redactions, and weighing the special counsel’s findings and conclusions against the president’s claims about his campaign’s behavior with the Russians.
What surprises lurked in the two thick volumes released by the Department of Justice? And, given Attorney General William Barr’s decision not to pursue any charges, which of Mueller’s findings will end up mattering the most for the remainder of Donald Trump’s presidency? POLITICO Magazine went to some of the brightest legal minds in America for the answers.
We’d already seen plenty of detail through the 199 criminal charges, and 37 criminal indictments and plea deals that emerged from Mueller’s investigations, and in the countless news stories issued in the 100 weeks since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. But there were still surprises, depending on what you were looking for—from Robert Mueller’s under-argued case for publishing an obstruction report at all to the sharp contradiction—noted by many of our experts—between Barr’s public statements and what Mueller’s team actually found. Here are their responses:
‘The report did not exonerate the president’
Marisa Maleck is a senior associate with King & Spalding, and a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
I found the most surprising part of the report to be two-fold: One, that special counsel Mueller went out of his way multiple times to dispel the notion that there is any concept called “collusion,” and that what he investigated was instead coordination and conspiracy; and two, that the report did not exonerate the president even with respect to conspiracy and coordination.
Although the report stated that there was “no evidence” of conspiracy or coordination, it left open the possibility that there may be evidence out there that the president’s associates suppressed. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Some information was screened even from the special counsel and his team. Several people affiliated with the Trump campaign (including Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort) lied or provided incomplete information to the special counsel about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals. Still others deleted communications or used encryption that did not provide for the long-term retention of data. And with respect to redactions within the report, the ones concerning the Trump campaign’s interest in WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked material are particularly concerning.
The special counsel declined to make a recommendation on obstruction mostly because the Office of Legal Counsel has concluded, most recently in 2000, that a sitting president is immune from indictment. The report made clear that it is up to Congress to decide whether to use impeachment as a remedy. So what will matter most for the remainder of the Trump presidency is whether the House of Representatives will file articles of impeachment based on the substantial allegations that the president may have obstructed justice.
Mueller whiffed on a crucial legal question
Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.
The special counsel’s report spans more than 400 pages. However, only 12 pages are dedicated to a critical question: Can the federal obstruction of justice statute apply to the president? Robert Mueller treated this question—which is separate from whether a sitting president can be indicted—in an underwhelming fashion.
Attorney General Barr stated in his press conference Thursday that he “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories.” I can speculate about one such theory: Mueller failed to do the necessary work to show that the precedents of the Supreme Court, and the Justice Department, support the application of the obstruction statute in this context.
Mueller could have avoided the entire second volume of his report—which spends 182 pages summarizing his obstruction of justice investigation—if he had simply concluded that the obstruction statute does not apply to the president. There is no reason to detail whether the president violated a federal law, if the federal law does not apply to the president.
The Supreme Court has historically been hesitant to resolve disputes between Congress and the president, and its justices have suggested that general statutes should not limit the president’s power unless Congress expressly indicated an intent to do so. Mueller declined to exercise this caution. Why? First, he reasoned, the Office of Legal Counsel has suggested that applying the federal bribery statute to the president “raises no separation of powers questions.” Second, Mueller reasoned that the prohibition on obstruction was indistinguishable from the prohibition on bribery. Therefore the obstruction statute could be applied to the president.
This analogy between bribery and obstruction, which supports much of Mueller’s analysis, falters. Accepting a bribe is an impeachable offense that cannot in any situation be considered a lawful exercise of presidential authority. An obstruction charge is very different. For example, Mueller implies that Trump’s removal of James Comey as the FBI director, with a corrupt intent, could constitute obstruction of justice. The president’s lawyers countered that the termination was a lawful exercise of presidential authority. Applying the obstruction statute to the president raises separation of powers questions that the bribery statute does not. Mueller should have taken this more restrained, and correct, approach.
‘The campaign certainly tried to collude’
Bradley P. Moss is a national security attorney in Washington
It is shocking how misleading and disingenuous the attorney general’s four-page letter, and his subsequent remarks at the press conference, turned out to be. The Mueller report identifies numerous instances of interactions with Russian nationals—by the Trump campaign or Trump associates—in an effort to gain hacked emails and to coordinate their dissemination. That may not be enough to warrant criminal conspiracy charges, but saying there was no collusion—as Barr did—is brazenly dishonest. The campaign certainly tried to collude.
Similarly, the attorney general’s description of the president’s lack of corrupt intent regarding obstruction is contradicted by the Mueller report. The president repeatedly tried to shut down or interfere with the investigation. He dangled pardons to try to get people to keep quiet. That he was saved by his aides’ willingness to ignore his rants and instructions is a weak defense. This matter will remain a stain on the Trump presidency going into 2020. Whether the public will care remains to be seen.
‘Americans should be proud of what we just witnessed’
Mark Zaid is the executive director of the James Madison Project and a co-founder of Whistleblower Aid.
What was most intriguing from the report so far was the revelation that 14 criminal referrals had been made by the Office of Special Counsel to various U.S. Attorney's Offices and we had only publicly known of two of them. Clearly, Trump and his family are not out of potential hot water.
Additionally, looking at the investigation from the 30,000-feet view, Americans should be proud of what we just witnessed. We had the president of the United States investigated by a non-partisan group that fairly and fully explored all the facts it believed needed to be reviewed, and the republic survived intact. The fear the president expressed when he learned of the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, which deserves scrutiny as to why he felt that way, was unfounded, and that is a good thing.
‘The facts are muddy’
Miriam Baer is a professor at Brooklyn Law School and a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Those who slog through the special counsel’s report may find surprising the sheer amount of time that Trump spent directing his aides to say or do things on his behalf that were either untrue or aimed at undermining the Mueller investigation. Among the vignettes that stand out are the president’s failed attempt to have K.T. McFarland draft a statement, the day after he offered her the ambassadorship to Singapore, denying Trump’s involvement in Michael Flynn’s efforts to discuss American sanctions with Russian officials; the president’s unsuccessful pressure on Don McGahn to fire the special counsel; and the president’s (also unsuccessful) attempts to use Corey Lewandowski to direct Jeff Sessions to truncate the Special Counsel’s investigation.
All of these efforts are damning, particularly in the aggregate—but they also demonstrate the challenges inherent in an obstruction case. The facts are muddy. There are a lot of moving parts, and it's difficult to keep track of all the details. The portrait they paint nevertheless falls far short of an exoneration.
‘If the attack were a bombing rather than a hacking, perhaps the magnitude of the problem would be clearer’
Justin Levitt is an associate dean at Loyola Law School and was a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general from 2015 to 2017.
The Mueller report makes unmistakably clear that Americans were attacked by foreign military units: specifically Russian “Military Units 26165 and 74455.” And it reminds us that the president and members of his campaign invited and welcomed those attacks, even if it did not arrange them, and that they were eager to profit from the proceeds of those attacks. That should be of immense concern. If the attack were a bombing rather than a hacking, perhaps the magnitude of the problem would be clearer. The hack was no less an attack than something more literally explosive.
We should all be disturbed by the lack of clarity regarding our ability—and our will—to deter similar future interference in our election process. And though I don’t know whether that will be the element of the Mueller report that matters most for the remainder of the Trump presidency, it should be.
Paul Rosenzweig is a former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009 who also served on the staff of the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton.
The obstruction of justice portion of the report reads like a prosecution memorandum that is leading up to a conclusion to recommend an indictment. It lays out the facts in painstaking detail, some of which (like the discussions of a Manafort pardon) are classic efforts to influence witness testimony. It then contains a lengthy legal analysis of why these acts are criminal and why the legal counter-arguments are mere hand-waving. And then, at the dénouement, when the conclusion should have read “for these reasons we recommend an indictment,” the report radically changes tack. Any other American in the same circumstances would likely be facing criminal charges. Mueller flinched—and that’s a shame.
Mueller documented a ‘pattern of conduct that leaves us wondering whether Barr made the right call’
Laurie L. Levenson is professor of law and David W. Burcham chair of ethical advocacy at Loyola Law School. She was formerly an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.
It is actually surprising how much Barr tried to spin this report in favor of the president. Given his prior public service, I had hoped Barr to rise to the occasion and be more forthright with the American public. But, he wasn’t. At minimum, the report details how the Trump campaign took advantage of Russian election interference, and the president himself made many efforts to stymie the investigation into what exactly happened. The report may not make a finding of criminal wrongdoing, but it certainly presents troubling behavior by a person who should be trying to protect our democracy.
After this report, I think that the Trump presidency will be forever under a cloud. The details of the report portray a president who is obsessed with his own political power and who was, in the report’s words, willing to engage in “multiple acts … that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.” What is troubling here is that these were not simply individual acts by the president; it is a pattern of conduct that leaves us wondering whether Barr made the right call in not authorizing the obstruction charges.
‘Special counsels are supposed to decide, not make debating points for each side’
Alan Dershowitz is a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.
Most surprising is the failure of the report to come to a definitive conclusion as to whether the president obstructed justice. Special counsels are supposed to decide, not make debating points for each side.
What’s here that will matter the most for the remainder of the Trump presidency? The dissenting arguments that Trump did obstruct justice. The Democrats will use that in much the same way that the a Republicans used Comey’s statement that Hillary Clinton had been extremely careless in her handling of the email server.
‘The report treats the obstruction fact-finding as a first step, not a conclusion’
Jennifer Taub is a professor of law at Vermont Law School.
I was surprised by something that was missing from the Mueller report. Nowhere does Mueller invite Barr to shut down the obstruction investigation into Trump. Yet that is exactly what Barr did in the four-page letter he sent to congressional leaders nearly one month ago, in which Barr made it seem like Mueller kind of gave up at the end and deferred on whether to press charges.
The report shows that this is clearly not the case. Mueller gathered substantial evidence that while in office, Trump obstructed justice. The report treats the obstruction fact-finding as a first step, not a conclusion. And while Mueller revealed that he felt bound by the Office of Legal Counsel guidelines that consider indicting or prosecuting a sitting president to be impermissible, he asserts that obstruction statutes apply to presidential conduct, and appears to contemplate future legal action.
As an alternative to an immediate indictment, the Mueller report suggested two paths: While in office, the “constitutional process” would be impeachment. But, Mueller writes, “while the OLC opinion concludes that a sitting president may not be prosecuted, it recognizes that a president does not have immunity after he leaves office.” Given that “a criminal investigation during a president’s term is permissible,” the report also stated that due to “the strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials available.” That does not sound like an invitation for Barr to take it upon himself “to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.”
This report does not exonerate the president. Far from it. This apparently criminal conduct will not suddenly disappear if Trump is not re-elected and the statutes of limitation have not yet run out.
‘Mueller improperly seized the power’ to interpret the Constitution and the scope of the president’s authority
John Yoo is a professor of law at U.C. Berkeley Law School and was a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general from 2001–2003.
I think that one of the most surprising parts of the report was its discussion of why it could not reach definite conclusions on obstruction of justice.
Barr concluded on the facts and the law that DOJ could not charge Trump with obstruction. He and Mueller clearly were bound by past DOJ opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted. But even if a president lost that immunity, Mueller could not indict on obstruction because he a) chose not to seek a live interview under subpoena from Trump, and; b) allowed Trump to provide written answers without addressing obstruction. The investigation could not reach a conclusion on obstruction because it could not decide whether Trump had a “corrupt” state of mind without interviewing him. At the same time, Mueller says that he believed he could have sought a subpoena and forced Trump to testify, but chose not to do so for reasons that did not seem compelling.
A second surprising part of the report: At the end, Mueller argues that the president does not have a constitutional defense to a charge of obstruction. Trump’s lawyers argued, I think to good effect, that Congress could not pass laws criminalizing a president’s exercising of his constitutional powers, such as the power to remove federal law enforcement officials. I believe that this is the correct reading of the Constitution’s separation of powers—otherwise, Congress could make it a crime simply to fire an executive branch officer unless Congress approves. Mueller improperly seized the power, which is actually vested in the attorney general, to interpret the Constitution and the scope of the president’s constitutional authority.
The most important thing for Trump going forward, is whether the House will initiate an impeachment investigation. Mueller tacitly invites such an investigation in his discussion of why DOJ doesn’t indict presidents (so as to permit other constitutional processes to occur, i.e, impeachment), and why he went ahead and conducting an investigation on obstruction anyway (to preserve evidence and fresh testimony).
Mueller’s writings on obstruction suggest he believed ‘the final decision should go to Congress’
Mimi Rocah is a distinguished fellow in criminal justice at Pace Law and a legal analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.
The most surprising thing I’ve learned so far from the unredacted portions of the Mueller Report is how significant the case of obstruction of justice is against Trump, and just how badly Barr mischaracterized the report, both in his four-page letter to Congress and Thursday morning at his press conference. Barr clearly tried to give the impression that it was an open question on obstruction that Mueller simply didn’t reach. But I don’t read it that way. I read Mueller’s decision on obstruction to be that there was a lot of evidence of obstruction and evidence of criminal intent (which Mueller indicated in his explanation for why he didn’t pursue the interview with Trump), and that the final decision should go to Congress.
This seems to be the most potentially consequential part for the presidency, because I think it requires Mueller’s immediate testimony and potentially the beginning of impeachment hearings if we don’t want this behavior repeated in future presidencies.
One redaction that looks important starts on volume 1, page 51. The section titled “Trump Campaign and the Dissemination of Hacked Materials” is largely redacted due to the potential bring “harm to ongoing matter.” Which matter is that, and will we see the results of that publicly at some point?
‘Mueller’s view of the Constitution is a sharp rebuke of Mr. Barr’s efforts’
Jimmy Gurulé is a law professor at Notre Dame who was an assistant attorney general under President George H.W. Bush and a Treasury undersecretary under President George W. Bush.
While there is much to criticize in the Mueller report, it does uphold a fundamental tenet of the rule of law: No one is above the law, including the president. The Mueller report directly refutes Barr’s astonishing claim, in his June 8, 2018, memorandum to Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that Trump is exempt from prosecution for obstruction of justice. Specifically, Barr maintains that Article II of the Constitution vests Trump with extraordinary powers. He argues that Trump can fire any member of the executive branch for any reason, including for the corrupt purpose of terminating an investigation targeting the president, his family, and close associates. According to Barr, such action does not constitute obstruction of justice. Thus, the president is above the law.
Mueller takes exception to that extraordinary claim, stating that “the obstruction statutes ... restrict presidential action ... by prohibiting the president from acting to obstruct official proceedings for the improper purpose of protecting his own interests.” Furthermore, Mueller states, “The proper supervision of criminal law does not demand freedom for the president to act with the intention of shielding himself from criminal punishment, avoiding financial liability, or preventing personal embarrassment.” Mueller’s view of the Constitution is a sharp rebuke of Barr’s efforts to protect the president from the obstruction laws.
The Mueller Report is ‘deeply confused and confusing’ about its own purpose
Rick Pildes is a professor of constitutional law at NYU Law School and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
On the obstruction issue, the Mueller report is, to my surprise, deeply confused and confusing about the fundamental issue of what the report means to be telling us.
The obstruction analysis begins with a statement of four principles that governed the analysis. The most consequential of these will come as a stunner to most people: “We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes” (emphasis added). In other words, the report was never going to reach a judgment about whether the president had committed a crime. No matter what the facts showed, the special counsel determined at the outset, as a matter of principle, that it would be inappropriate to conclude that the president had committed a crime.
I assume most people would have thought the entire point of the special counsel investigation on obstruction was precisely to determine whether the president had committed any crimes. But the report concludes that because the president cannot be indicted while in office, it would be “unfair” in principle to conclude he had committed a crime, because unlike the ordinary criminal defendant, he would not soon have a trial in which he could clear his name. In other words: Since the president cannot be indicted while in office, he also can’t be found by the Justice Department to have committed a crime while in office.
So what was the point of the obstruction phase of the investigation? Merely to “preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials available.”
The report states that if the evidence had left the special counsel convinced the president had not committed a crime, the report would be able to tell us that. Thus, we are told both that the special counsel would not be able to say if he’d concluded the president had committed a crime, and that the special counsel was able to say that he cannot conclude the president did not commit a crime. But if these considerations of “fairness” to the president are correct, they would presumably also prohibit the attorney general from publicly concluding that the president had committed a crime.
If the report had at least been clear and explicit throughout about how narrowly Mueller conceived his role, it could have expressly said things like, “We believe only Congress can decide whether a president has committed a crime while in office” or “We will only present you with our factual findings and our view of the general legal principles involved.” That would at least have left clear the limited role the special counsel believed the Department of Justice can play in evaluating potential presidential criminal liability.
But instead, the report assessed whether each event it examined could be considered obstructive. This leaves the impression that the special counsel evaluated each event and concluded that one could argue either way about whether it could be part of an obstruction crime. There is a large difference between saying (1) it is not our role, it is only for Congress to decide whether a crime has been committed, and (2) we are indeed evaluating the merits and we conclude the case could go either way.
I am afraid Mueller’s report muddies the difference between these two positions. The result is that partisans will have plausible bases for reading the obstruction analysis consistent with their prior partisan preferences.
‘An indictment in all but the formalities’
Larry Robbins is trial and appellate litigator at Russell Robbins. He has argued 18 cases in the United States Supreme Court and has served as both a federal prosecutor and defense lawyer.
Mueller’s stated rationale for declining to reach a judgment about obstruction rests on an almost absurdly delicate conception about the president's ability to answer such charges. The evidence of obstruction gathered in Volume II is absolutely devastating (Barr’s claim, in his four-page letter, that the report simply sets out evidence on “both sides of the question” is wildly misleading). Admittedly, Mueller could not actually indict on obstruction—he understandably regarded DOJ policy (however wrongheaded) as precluding that option. But his unwillingness even to reach a judgment—in the face of so much evidence against the president—is predicated on the view that, without an indictment, the president would be disabled from answering such charges. But if we’ve learned nothing else from the last two years, it is that Trump has an array of weapons at his disposal for sticking up for himself (or enlisting his media allies to do so). For Mueller to reach no stated conclusion, and then handing off his report to an attorney general who auditioned for the job with a memo asserting that any obstruction prosecution on facts such as these would be unconstitutional, all but ensured that the ordinary operation of the federal criminal law would fail.
Despite Mueller’s stated unwillingness even to reach a formal judgment on obstruction, Volume II of the report is an indictment in all but the formalities. No one can read that volume and fail to imagine what Mueller would have done if he—instead of Barr—were the AG.
‘The Department of Justice will not indict a sitting president for anything’
Richard W. Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.
The second part of the report reveals that the lack of an ultimate conclusion on obstruction of justice turns in large part on the fact that the Department of Justice will not indict a sitting president for anything. The report contains substantial—indeed overwhelming—evidence that the president committed acts that would be criminal obstruction of justice if committed by anyone other than the president and may very well be criminal even if committed by the president. There are 10 instances in which the president tried to end or obstruct the investigation. Some of these instances arguably have a defense based on presidential powers, but that constitutional question is not resolved. It is very likely that it would not be resolved in the president’s favor with respect to all 10. The only way to find out is to indict Trump and let the courts decide.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
For nearly a month, the American public has been under the impression, thanks to a four-page "summary" by Attorney General William Barr, that Robert Mueller could not decide whether President Donald Trump had obstructed justice because of “difficult questions of law and fact.” Barr suggested that the special counsel, after 22 months of investigation, simply couldn’t make up his mind and left it to his boss to decide.
Now that we have seen almost the entire report of more than 400 pages, we know Barr intentionally misled the American people about Mueller’s findings and his legal reasoning. As a former federal prosecutor, when I look at Mueller’s work, I don’t see a murky set of facts. I see a case meticulously laid out by a prosecutor who knew he was not allowed to bring it.
Mueller’s report detailed extraordinary efforts by Trump to abuse his power as president to undermine Mueller’s investigation. The case is so detailed that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Mueller could have indicted and convicted Trump for obstruction of justice—if he were permitted to do so. And the reason he is not permitted to do so is very clear: Department of Justice policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting president.
Mueller still could have reached a conclusion regarding obstruction of justice, but he believed it would be unfair to reach a conclusion that Trump could not rebut in court. How do we know this? Because Mueller says it. If he had reached a conclusion that Trump obstructed justice, Mueller wrote, Trump could not go to court to obtain a “speedy and public trial” with the “procedural protections” afforded to a criminal defendant by the Constitution.
Though Mueller determined there was no “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, he makes clear that proving obstruction does not require the existence of such an underlying crime. There are many reasons, including fear of personal embarrassment, to explain why the president might have tried to impede the special counsel’s investigation. “The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong,” Mueller wrote. Moreover, Mueller’s team “found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations.”
But Barr hid these inconvenient facts.
In his letter in March, Barr rushed to conclude that Trump did not obstruct justice, suggesting that Mueller “[left] it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.” His letter, which did not contain a single full sentence written by Mueller’s team, contained none of Mueller’s reasoning, nor his rejection of all of the defenses raised by Trump’s lawyers to obstruction of justice.
Then Barr compounded the deception in his news conference Thursday before his release of the report. Without Mueller present, Barr took a question from a reporter who asked whether Mueller’s non-decision on obstruction “had anything to do with the department's long-standing guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel on not indicting a sitting president.”
Barr responded that he had a private conversation with Mueller, who told him that he “was not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime.” Regardless of whether Barr's recounting of the conversation was technically accurate, it’s clear that Barr’s answer was highly misleading. Having now read the report, there can be no serious question that the answer from the Mueller team is “yes.” “Fairness concerns” arising from the inability to indict a sitting president was the key factor in Mueller’s decision not to reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice.
Reading Mueller’s report, it is obvious the contortions Barr undertook to pronounce Trump exonerated. In the report, Mueller went out of his way to debunk Barr’s unconventional view that the Constitution “categorically and permanently immunize[d]” Trump from prosecution for abusing his power to undermine the investigation.
In fact, Mueller concluded that Congress has the authority to remove Trump from office, noting that his “conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Mueller appears to believe that it is the role of Congress to ensure Trump is not above the law.
And now Congress can see the case Mueller laid out.
What they do with it is in large part a political question. The majority of House Democrats have already concluded that impeachment is not “worthwhile,” Nevertheless, some House members, primarily from the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus, have indicated they intend to use the full extent of their investigatory powers.
They have plenty to work with. The Mueller report paints a picture of a president who took extraordinary steps to undermine a lawful investigation into him and his associates. Trump fired the FBI director, tried to fire Mueller, asked the FBI director to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn, tried to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal and tank the investigation, and tried to influence the testimony of witnesses. Mueller properly rejected all of the defenses to obstruction of justice put forward by Trump's lawyers. Candidly, as a criminal defense attorney, I cannot see how I would convince a jury that there is reasonable doubt based on these facts.
But Trump will almost certainly never face a jury, due in part to the highly questionable efforts of his lawyers, who appear to need lawyers of their own. Their greatest achievement was convincing Mueller not to interview Trump, even though Mueller concluded he “had the authority and legal justification” to force Trump to testify.
Mueller said he chose not to interview Trump because it would cause “substantial delay” and he already had “sufficient evidence,” which strongly suggests that Mueller felt that he could prove Trump's intent without an interview. In a typical case, a prosecutor would have interviewed Trump regardless, to lock him into a story. In this matter as well, Mueller showed considerable restraint.
Ironically, despite Trump's refusal to sit for an interview—as other presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did—Barr touted Trump's “full cooperation” with the investigation. On this matter, as with so many others, Barr deceived the public.
That is not the only time Barr deliberately misled the American people. His letter from March is full of half-truths and highly misleading statements. For example, Barr quoted the following passage from the report: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Barr omitted the first part of that sentence, which read: “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
If I engaged in that sort of selective quotation in a court of law, I would be censured for misleading the court. As attorney general of the United States, Barr should be held to a higher standard than any ordinary lawyer. There can be no serious question that Barr deliberately misled the American people and its elected representatives about a matter of the utmost public concern.
More alarming, Barr stonewalled the House of Representatives, which has a constitutional duty to investigate criminal activity by the president. Despite repeated requests, Barr did not disclose the report to the House prior to its public release and has still refused to provide the full report to congressional leadership, leading House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York to state that he will issue a subpoena for the report.
There can be no justification for Barr’s refusal to provide the report to Congress, particularly when he provided the report to Trump’s legal team—including Trump's personal attorneys—days prior to its release. Barr was not required by law to do so, and as far as we know, he provided it to no one else in advance. Jay Sekulow saw the Mueller report before Nancy Pelosi or Nadler saw it, and Barr has refused to produce the full report of a criminal investigation of the president to them. That is not how our constitutional system is supposed to work.
Many will criticize Mueller’s decision (or lack thereof) because, as a practical matter, it does not hold Trump immediately responsible for his conduct. But I will never criticize a prosecutor for demonstrating a sense of fair play. As Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote, “the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”
Faced with a task of enormous importance, Mueller exemplified the highest ideals of the Department of Justice. Barr, for his part, pledged to be “transparent.” But we can see clearly now how much he tried to conceal.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
The husband of key White House adviser Kellyanne Conway wrote Thursday night that the report of special counsel Robert Mueller provides sufficient grounds to impeach President Trump.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post published online, lawyer George Conway wrote under the headline "Trump is a cancer on ...
Special counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month investigation produced a damning exoneration of President Trump, finding that he did not conspire with Russia to subvert the 2016 election but did repeatedly attempt to shape the follow-up probes themselves with threats to fire investigators or cajole witnesses.
The president failed in those attempts, ...
Forget collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. The most concrete takeaway from the 448-page Mueller report is its damning portrait of the Trump White House as a place of chaos, intrigue and deception, where aides routinely disregard the wishes of a president with little regard for the traditional boundaries of his office.
It's a theme familiar from more than two years of stunning headlines and tell-all books. But this time, the narrative is starker because it can’t be dismissed as “fake news,” the product of anonymous sources or literary license on the part of authors looking to sell books or land a television contract.
Instead it was assembled from hundreds of hours of interviews conducted by seasoned investigators, backed up by the threat of perjury charges, with top White House officials and Cabinet members —almost all of whom are named.
You could say the Mueller report reads like “Fire and Fury” under oath. Like that bestselling account of Trump’s White House by the journalist Michael Wolff, Mueller’s report casts White House staffers as full-time minders of the president, who earn his ire during calls to their homes in off-hours, or who are urged by other staffers to midlead the press and public on behalf of the commander-in-chief.
“[T]here was no real up-and-down structure in the administration — merely a figure at the top and everyone else scrambling for his attention,” Wolff wrote, in words validated by the chaos captured in Mueller’s report. “It wasn’t task-based so much as response-oriented — whatever captured the boss’s attention focused everybody’s attention.”
Trump trashed that tome on Twitter as “a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author,” and has used similar language to attack other accounts of disorder in his administration.
But while Mueller’s report covers much narrower ground than accounts by Wolff, Bob Woodward and others, it also mirrors their basic portraits of his administration.
“It’s amazing how many people around the president chose not to do what the president asked them to do,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and former head of the Nixon Presidential Library. “In a sense, there was some institutional memory of Watergate or maybe Iran-Contra in that people realized, ‘Oh right, maybe I should not do this.’”
Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, downplayed the idea that Trump’s White House is defined by conflict between an impulsive president and officials so worried about his extreme demands that, as Mueller documents, some created contemporaneous accounts of their experiences, either for the historical record, or to protect themselves, or both.
“Things like that happen in every large organization where you have bosses and underlings and there are disputes,” Giuliani told POLITICO on Thursday.
“When he wants to get something done, he does,” Giuliani added. “When he wants to get rid of Comey, he got rid of him.”
Trump may also encounter less resistance to his most aggressive ideas today than he did in the early months of his presidency. Over time, Trump has pushed out several officials like White House counsel Don McGahn, who defied the president’s efforts to fire Mueller, and now Trump is surrounded by family members, more pliant staffers, and just a sparser West Wing overall.
What still seems to be a constant at the White House is the fascinating gamesmanship among Trump's aides, who, the report shows, sometimes passed his orders around in hot-potato fashion. It documents how Trump asked his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly call the Justice Department’s Russia probe “unfair” – and to have Sessions’ limit the breadth of the special investigation to election interference. An unwilling Lewandowski asked White House staffer and Sessions’ former chief of staff Rick Dearborn to deliver the message. Dearborn likewise never took action.
And it paints picture of a president obsessed with media coverage, his own image, and the legitimacy of his presidency. Following the election, the White House’s former communications director Sean Spicer told investigators that Trump believed the Russia story was concocted to undermine “the legitimacy of his election,” according to the report.
Story after story like this permeates the latter half of the Mueller report, making for fascinating reading for Trump obsessives – especially since the White House denied so many news reports of these instances in real time.
Trump, for instance, once asked McGahn to refute press reports in January 2018 that he had asked him to fire the special counsel in June 2017 – a move McGahn refused to do, instead offering to resign. At the time those accounts emerged, White House officials denied that story.
Similarly, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Mueller’s team that she knew the explanation she gave to reporters for the president’s firing of Comey was false. At the time, she told the press Comey had to go because he had lost the confidence of the rank-and-file in the department. In fact, Trump sacked him over the Russia probe.
The report also gives Democrats more fodder to question the way Trump approaches the highest office in the land.
“President Trump has, from his very first weekend in office when he declared war on the free press in our country, worked to undermine the people’s faith in our institutions,” including the Justice Department, said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. “By undermining those institutions, he’s diminishing the office of the president,” he added.
None of that has stopped the president and his team from declaring a major victory. Counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House on Thursday it was “really the best day since he got elected.”
Andrew Desiderio and Darren Samuelsohn contributed reporting.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Over the span of five days last week, three U.S. military veterans committed suicide on Veterans Affairs properties in Texas and Georgia, sparking calls that not enough is being done to confront the enduring problem of elevated suicide rates among veterans.
The spate of incidents starkly illustrates the problems U.S. ...
Pro-choice advocates thought the law was settled and states were limited in how much they could regulate abortion clinics.
But they found themselves Wednesday back at the Supreme Court, asking the justices to strike down a Louisiana law mandating that clinics have admitting privileges to a local hospital should any ...
Following the release of the redacted Mueller report, President Donald Trump’s lawyers provided the full transcript of Trump’s written answers to questions Mueller posed to the president during his investigation.
More than two dozen times, Trump’s answers included phrases like “I can’t remember” or “I do not recall.”
Trump’s lawyers took issue with Mueller’s questions, saying they invited “speculative answers” because they were be based on “brief interactions” that took place more than two years earlier during “an extraordinarily eventful and fast-paced presidential election campaign.” The lawyers said that the questions, many of them pertaining to alleged communications with foreign operatives, would be “burdensome” for any person to remember, let alone the president of the United States.
Following are the 27 things Trump couldn’t recall. The full letter, questions and answers can be found here.Communications with Russia
Trump: “I do not recall being aware during the campaign of communications between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Jared Kushner and any member or representative of the Agalarov family, Robert Goldstone, Natalia Veselnitskaya (whose name I was not familiar with), or anyone I understood to be a Russian official. “
“I have no recollection of learning at the time that Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Jared Kushner was considering participating in a meeting in June 2016 concerning potentially negative information about Hillary Clinton. Nor do I recall learning during the campaign that the June 9, 2016 meeting had taken place, that the referenced emails existed, or that Donald J. Trump, Jr., had other communications with Emin Agalarov or Robert Goldstone between June 3, 2016 and June 9, 2016.“Time in Trump Tower
Trump: “Trump Organization desk calendar also reflects that I was outside Trump Tower during portions of these days. The June 7, 2016 calendar indicates I was scheduled to leave Trump Tower in the early evening for Westchester where I gave remarks after winning the California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota Republican primaries held that day. The June 8, 2016 calendar indicates a scheduled departure in late afternoon to attend a ceremony at my son's school. The June 9, 2016 calendar indicates I was scheduled to attend midday meetings and a fundraising luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel. At this point, I do not remember on what dates these events occurred, but I do not currently have a reason to doubt that they took place as scheduled on my calendar.
Widely available media reports, including television footage, also shed light on my activities during these days. For example, I am aware that my June 7, 2016 victory remarks at the Trump
National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York, were recorded and published by the media. I remember winning those primaries and generally recall delivering remarks that evening.
At this point in time, I do not remember whether I spoke or met with Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Jared Kushner on June 9, 2016. My desk calendar indicates I was scheduled to meet with Paul Manafort on the morning of June 9, but I do not recall if that meeting took place. It was more than two years ago, at a time when I had many calls and interactions daily.“The DNC hack
Trump: “I do not remember the date on which it was publicly reported that the DNC had been hacked, but my best recollection is that I learned of the hacking at or shortly after the time it became the subject of media reporting. I do not recall being provided any information during the campaign about the hacking of any of the named entities or individuals before it became the subject of media reporting.“
Trump: I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between the individuals named in Question II (c) and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks or any of the other individuals or entities referred to in the question.
The WikiLeaks DNC hack
Trump: “I recall that in the months leading up to the election there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information and there was a lot of talk about this matter. At the time, I was generally aware of these media reports and may have discussed these issues with my campaign staff or others, but at this point in time - more than two years later - I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.“
'Russia, if you're listening' — Did Trump mean it?
Trump: “I made the statement quoted in Question II (d) in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer. The context of the statement is evident in the full reading or viewing of the July 27, 2016 press conference, and I refer you to the publicly available transcript and video of that press conference. I do not recall having any discussion about the substance of the statement in advance of the press conference. I do not recall being told during the campaign of any efforts by Russia to infiltrate or hack the computer systems or email accounts of Hillary Clinton or her campaign prior to them becoming the subject of media reporting and I have no recollection of any particular conversation in that regard“
Did Trump know about Roger Stone's conversations with WikiLeaks?
Trump: “I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with any of the entities named in the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.“
How often did Trump and Stone speak?
Trump: “I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.“
Was a pardon for Julian Assange discussed prior to Jan. 20, 2017?
Trump: “I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.“
Was Trump aware of foreign efforts to help his campaign via social media, or at rallies?
Trump: “I do not recall being aware during the campaign of specific efforts by foreign individuals or companies to assist my campaign through the use of social media postings or the organization of rallies.“
On the Trump Organization project in Moscow
Trump: “Sometime in 2015, Michael Cohen suggested to me the possibility of a Trump Organization project in Moscow. As I recall, Mr. Cohen described this as a proposed project of a general type we have done in the past in a variety of locations. I signed the non-binding Letter of Intent attached to your questions as Exhibit B which required no equity or expenditure on our end and was consistent with our ongoing efforts to expand into significant markets around the world.
I had few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject. As I recall, they were brief, and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal, and I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it. I do not remember discussing it with anyone else at the Trump Organization, although it is possible. I do not recall being aware at the time of any communications between Mr. Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that Mr. Cohen sent an email regarding the Letter of Intent to "Mr. Peskov" at a general, public email account, which should show there was no meaningful relationship with people in power in Russia. I understand those documents already have been provided to you.“
Contacts with Russia
Trump: “Mr. Manafort was hired primarily because of his delegate work for prior presidential candidates, including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. I knew that Mr. Manafort had done international consulting work and, at some time before Mr. Manafort left the campaign, I learned that he was somehow involved with individuals concerning Ukraine, but I do not remember the specifics of what I knew at the time.
I had no knowledge of Mr. Manafort offering briefings on the progress of my campaign to an individual named Oleg Deripaska, nor do I remember being aware of Mr. Manafort or anyone else associated with my campaign sending or directing others to send internal Trump Campaign information to anyone I knew to be in Ukraine or Russia at the time or to anyone I understood to be a Ukrainian or Russian government employee or official. I do not remember Mr. Manafort communicating to me any particular positions Ukraine or Russia would want the United States to support.“
Did Trump know Russian officials wanted to talk to him during the campaign?
Trump: “I do not recall being told during the campaign of efforts by Russian officials to meet with me or with senior members of my campaign. In the process of preparing to respond to these questions, I became aware that on March 17, 2016, my assistant at the Trump Organization, Rhona Graff, received an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Foundation Roscongress, inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to be held in June 2016. The documents show that Ms. Graff prepared for my signature a brief response declining the invitation. I understand these documents already have been produced to you. “
Did Trump know that Manafort had ties to Ukraine (and when)?
Trump: “I have no recollection of the details of what, when, or from what source I first learned about the change to the platform amendment regarding arming Ukraine, but I generally recall learning of the issue as part of media reporting. I do not recall being involved in changing the language to the amendment.“
Contacts with Russia and Russia-Related issues during the transition
Trump: “I do not remember having been asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala, and I did not attend the event. During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower, the 2016 World Chess Championship Match to be held in New York in November 2016. I have also become aware that in November 2016, there were press inquiries to my staff regarding whether I had plans to attend the tournament, which was not being held at Trump Tower. I understand these documents have already been provided to you.“
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Bill Barr and Robert Mueller have been close friends for 30 years, from the Justice Department to family weddings and the Bible-study group attended by both their wives.
Now they’re anchoring two ends of a legal high-wire act playing out through press conferences, congressional hearings and close-up reviews of the special counsel’s long-awaited findings on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The bond between the two men has been stressed over the last month amid a volley of letters and closed-door negotiations among their aides. Finally, on Thursday, the release of Mueller’s final report showcased the large amounts of daylight between the veteran law enforcement officials on fundamental questions at the heart of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“We don't go through this process just to collect information and throw it out to the public,” Barr said with evident frustration, referring to Mueller’s 448-page report which failed to make a conclusive finding on whether Trump obstructed justice. “Because the special counsel did not make that decision, we felt the department had to. That was a decision by me and the deputy attorney general.”
Now, the tensions between Barr and Mueller are only going to get more pronounced when the two men are summoned to testify separately on Capitol Hill about the turbo-charged Russia investigation that consumed Trump’s first two years in office. Democrats are intent on uncovering any evidence that Barr shaded the public disclosure of Mueller’s findings to favor the president who appointed him.
Differences in how the attorney general and special counsel came at the Russia probe and interpret its findings are apparent on many levels.
First there’s the rhetoric. Barr in Thursday’s press conference four times adopted the same “no collusion” mantra that Trump has obsessively used since the Mueller investigation started. It’s language that stands in sharp contrast to Mueller, whose report ticks through a stream of interactions between Trump, his family, aides and allies and Russians interested in cultivating a rookie Republican politician mounting a long-shot bid to win the White House.
The only references the special counsel makes to “collusion” come in an attempt to explain how the term is hardly the accurate legal one but instead should be thought of in the context of a conspiracy.
Barr, in his much-criticized press conference, also defended Trump and reiterated his “sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.” Mueller, by contrast, offered in his report a methodical run-down of all the evidence that his prosecution team unearthed during a nearly two-year period, calling out Trump aides for giving misleading testimony and deleting records to block the investigation.
More than anything, though, the contrast between Barr and Mueller centers primarily around whether Trump committed obstruction of justice -- and whether the attorney general accurately reflected the special counsel’s views on the subject in his letter to Congress last month and then again Thursday during the press event.
At the press conference, Barr declared that Trump’s White House “fully cooperated” with Mueller’s probe.
Mueller’s report, however, made it clear that Trump himself did not submit to a sit-down interview and, in negotiated written questions, declined to answer questions about obstruction of justice.
While there have been hints for weeks that Barr and Mueller did not see eye-to-eye on the Trump-Russia case, Barr publicly confirmed the disconnect with Mueller at the news conference when Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “disagreed” with some of the special counsel’s legal theories underlying the obstruction investigation.
Some of the 10 episodes Mueller specifically examined didn’t amount to crimes “as a matter of law,” Barr said.
But Mueller’s report made no findings on Trump’s legal culpability, explaining that the special counsel was adhering to longstanding Justice Department legal opinions that a sitting president couldn’t be indicted. Mueller’s lengthy analysis went on to say that claiming the president obstructed justice without the ability to charge him would taint his presidency and damage his ability to govern -- leaving him with no legal recourse to clear his name or protections normally afforded to criminal defendants.
But that series of caveats is notably surrounded by multiple examples of potential obstruction by Trump, including urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation; pressing then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller; and communicating through back channels his appreciation for loyalty to key investigative targets like Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the Mueller report said. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.…Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr, however, insisted at his news conference that Mueller had “made it very clear several times” that the Justice Department’s guidance on charging a president wasn’t what stopped Mueller from concluding that Trump had committed a crime.
“He was not saying that but for the [Justice Department] opinion, he would have found a crime. He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime,” Barr explained.
Barr also rejected the idea that Mueller in his report was all along angling to send his findings to Congress for it to consider impeachment proceedings.
“I hope that was not his view, since we don't convene grand juries and conduct criminal investigations for that purpose. ... I didn't talk to him directly about the fact that we were making the decision, but I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision,” the attorney general said.
Some former officials who know both Barr and Mueller expressed disappointment Thursday in Barr’s decision to present what they viewed as a skewed version of Mueller’s findings.
“The attorney general only talked about stuff favorable to the president and that struck me as odd and it did strike me as a tactic,” a former U.S. attorney who knows both men, Chuck Rosenberg, said on MSNBC Thursday. “We need to see what Mueller said, not the characterization of what Mueller said by the attorney general. That was a tactic. He did employ it. It's disappointing to me, but not terribly surprising.”
Barr arguably cast the first stone in the conflict between the two men nearly a year ago by writing an unsolicited 19-page memo attacking the notion that Trump could be guilty of obstruction of justice for any efforts to end the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The June 2018 missive sent to Rosenstein argued that the obstruction case against Trump was so weak--and the legal theory for accusing the president of obstruction so flawed--that Mueller’s team should not even be permitted to demand an interview with Trump.
“Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived,” Barr declared in his broadside, which he also circulated to more than a dozen other prominent lawyers across Washington. Barr argued that only acts such as witness tampering and destruction of evidence could amount to obstruction by the president, but actions stemming from his constitutional authority to end an investigation or replace its overseer could not.
Barr, who previously served as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, went even further in the memo, contending that if there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president could not be guilty of obstruction of justice and therefore Mueller should not be able to press that issue further.
“The president’s motive in removing [FBI Director James] Comey and commenting on [the inquiry into former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn could not have been ‘corrupt’ unless the President and his campaign were actually guilty of illegal collusion,” the once and future attorney general wrote. “Either the President and his campaign engaged in illegal collusion or they did not….If they did not, then the cover up theory is untenable.”
Mueller’s report appears to reject that conclusion, stating that statutes do not require the existence of an underlying crime to prosecute someone for obstruction of justice.
“I don’t think the Mueller report reflects either the view that public officials cannot obstruct justice through official acts or that obstruction of an investigation into something that isn’t unlawful isn’t obstruction,” said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, summarizing points Barr made in his 2018 memo. “The contrary, I read the Mueller report as suggesting that both of the opposite things are true….but I do think the report was written with this fight about obstruction in mind, partly because of Barr and partly because that argument about obstruction has been out there a while.”
Barr did acknowledge in his 2018 memo that he did not have all relevant facts about the investigation, which could give him a chance to say his views have evolved or are now more informed. But there was no sign Thursday he plans such a shift. In addition, the legal conclusions he articulated before becoming attorney general were so sweeping that they seemed to dismiss thousands of hours of work Mueller’s team had invested in their inquiry.
During Barr’s confirmation hearing in January, he didn’t shy away from talking about his personal relationship with Mueller -- a sore spot with Trump considering the president had been firing direct Twitter broadsides at the special counsel for months.
In his testimony, Barr said he and his wife were close to Mueller and his wife. Barr added that when he met with Trump briefly in 2017 about possibly becoming a personal lawyer for the president, Trump asked about his relationship with Mueller and Barr replied that he and his wife “would be good friends” with the Muellers long after the probe concluded.
Despite that exchange, Barr’s talk at the confirmation hearing about his friendship with Mueller startled Trump as he watched the session on TV, CNN reported.
At the Senate hearing, Barr also seemed to downplay his June 2018 memo, saying it didn’t challenge Mueller’s “core investigation.” The then-nominee also went on to say he wouldn’t rule out subpoenaing Trump before a grand jury if Mueller asked to do so.
“I don’t know what the facts are,” Barr said then. “If there was a factual basis for doing it and I couldn’t say that it violated established policies, then I wouldn’t interfere but I don’t know what the facts are.”
But there have been clear indications in recent weeks of more distance between Barr and Mueller than what one might expect given their professional and personal history.
Mueller was notably absent from Barr’s announcement Thursday, and the attorney general was instead flanked by Rosenstein and an aide who helped oversee Mueller’s probe, Ed O’Callaghan. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined comment when asked if the special counsel had even been invited to the event.
At the press conference, Barr said he and Mueller had not spoken about the attorney general’s decision to issue a public conclusion that Trump wasn’t guilty of a crime, even though Mueller explicitly refrained from making such a declaration.
“I didn't talk to him directly about the fact that we were making the decision, but I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision,” Barr said.
A Justice Department official who spoke on background said there had been little contact between the two men in the past two months. The only direct interaction Barr mentioned was on March 5, when Mueller gave the new attorney general an update on the special counsel investigation. Mueller informed Barr and Rosenstein that he planned to close the investigation without resolving whether Trump obstructed justice, the official said.
“Barr and Rod were both surprised,” said the official. “It was unexpected.”
On Capitol Hill, the hearings on the Mueller report seems unlikely to produce a face-to-face confrontation between the attorney general and the special counsel. Still, Democrats are likely to zero in on whether Barr mischaracterized Mueller’s finding when the attorney general comes to Capitol Hill for back-to-back Senate and House hearings set for May 1 and May 2.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) leapt on the differences between Mueller and Barr, noting that the special counsel’s report said a “thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would have risen to personal and political concerns.”
But Barr “excluded this critical finding from his version of events,” said the New York Democrat, who on Thursday sent a letter to Mueller inviting him to testify by May 23.
For his part, Barr said Thursday he had no objection to Mueller appearing before lawmakers. Mueller’s spokesman declined comment when asked if the special counsel--who assiduously shunned the spotlight during his nearly-two-year tenure -- plans to accept Nadler’s invitation to testify.
One way for the Trump team to try to defuse or smooth over any tension between the two men may be to suggest that Mueller’s report is not as much the definitive view of the former FBI director as a compendium of the conclusions of his aides -- the hard-charging prosecutors Trump has branded as “13 Angry Democrats.”
One prominent lawyer close to Trump and Barr took that tack Thursday, saying that during Mueller’s tenure at the Justice Department he had a reputation for allowing his staff more leeway in drafting official memos and legal documents than other senior officials.
“Mueller doesn’t always control the pen as heavily as other officials might,” said the attorney, who said some lines in the report seemed “a little out of character” for the veteran prosecutor and ex-FBI chief.
“I just assume some people on his team felt strongly and he wasn’t going to take them out,” added the Trump adviser, who asked not to named.
Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s personal attorneys, said the one difference he can see between Mueller and Barr centers on “how do you legally assess or interpret the situations that are alleged to be obstruction?”
“And I think that Barr has the classic approach to obstruction and I think some of Mueller’s staff have a much more expansive notion of it, which they may actually believe or they may be contorting because they’re pretty desperate to get the president,” the former New York mayor said.
Glenn Kirschner, who worked as a homicide prosecutor under Mueller in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington D.C., predicted that the special counsel would eventually spell out his differences with Barr before Congress.
“Mueller is not the kind of guy who is going to stand up at a press conference and disagree with the attorney general. He’s going to wait. He’s going to bide his time,” Kirschner said. “He will not let injustice stand … He’ll set the record straight. All things in time.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
WASHINGTON (AP) - Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, registered as an energy lobbyist in Indiana on Thursday as fossil-fuels interests there are fighting to block the proposed closure of several coal-fired power plants.
A lobbying disclosure report for Pruitt provides little insight into precisely ...
WASHINGTON (AP) - It's now up to Congress to decide what to do with special counsel Robert Mueller's findings about President Donald Trump.
While the special counsel declined to prosecute Trump on obstruction of justice, he did not exonerate him, all but leaving the question to Congress. Mueller's report provides ...
Special counsel Robert Mueller may not have found a Russia-Trump conspiracy, but he did find plenty of other potential crime during his sprawling 22-month investigation, farming out 14 cases to other prosecutors to pursue.
Mr. Mueller's 448-page report on his investigation, released publicly Thursday, gave only tantalizing references about the ...
WASHINGTON (AP) - It was a punt that will be examined for years, if not decades.
Special counsel Robert Mueller found he couldn't exonerate President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, but he wouldn't recommend charging him, either.
In explaining the decision to eschew a "traditional prosecutorial judgment," Mueller said ...
In December 2016, a few weeks after Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, Russian president Vladimir Putin convened what a Russian oligarch described as an “all-hands” meeting with some of his country’s top businessmen. A main topic of discussion: U.S. sanctions against Russia.
One of the oligarchs present was Petr Aven, co-founder of Alfa Bank, Russia’s biggest commercial bank. Aven had recently met with with Putin one on one to discuss the sanctions and what to do about them. Putin said he had been struggling to get messages to Trump’s inner circle, and urged Aven to take steps to protect his bank from additional U.S. penalties, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which details the episode. Aven perceived that as an order, not a request, according to Mueller, and understood “that there would be consequences if he did not follow through.”
Aven quickly understood that his mission was to contact the Trump transition team, and began an effort to contact Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Mueller’s nearly 450-page report granularly describes this and related episodes, revealing how Putin explicitly encouraged his country’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen to make contact with Trump’s transition team after the election. The directives help explain the “flurry” of contact the oligarchs made with Trump’s associates in the weeks following the reality TV star’s unexpected victory, Mueller wrote.
Even though Mueller did not establish any conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia, the special counsel’s report shows how important it was to Putin to establish a backchannel line of communication to Trump’s transition team — and how receptive Trump’s associates were to the overtures.
“As soon as news broke that Trump had been elected President, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new Administration,” Mueller’s team wrote in their final report.
In other words, after Trump pulled off his surprise victory in an election marred by Russia’s attempts to sow discord and buoy Trump’s candidacy, Putin wanted to cash in.
The attempts entailed outreaches “sanctioned at high levels of the Russian government, through business rather than political contacts.” Putin’s chief concern, according to Mueller, was getting the incoming Trump administration to roll back the U.S. sanctions hampering the Russian economy.
Among the oligarchs working to make inroads with Trump was Aven, the co-founder of Russia’s biggest private financial institution, Alfa Bank; Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund; and Sergey Gorkov, the head of the Russian-government owned bank Vnesheconombank, or VEB.
Two of the wealthy moguls succeeded.
Dmitriev was able to get a Putin-approved U.S.-Russia “reconciliation plan” to Kushner, who passed it to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And Gorkov scored a meeting with Kushner during the transition period to discuss U.S.-Russia relations, according to Mueller.
Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research on Russia and Eurasia, called the details of this outreach “striking.”
“It wasn’t just, 'we need to build bridges for the sake of future dialogue,'” Weiss told POLITICO. “It was designed to head off further sanctions and, in Dmitriev’s case, to create a blueprint for recasting U.S. relations with Russia.”
And although Aven was rebuffed in his overtures, it was not for a lack of effort. At one point, Aven enlisted an American business associate, Richard Burt, formerly a U.S. ambassador to Germany, to help get through to Kushner.
According to Mueller, Aven told Burt that “someone high in the Russian government” had expressed “interest in establishing a communication channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team.”
Burt apparently found Aven’s request odd, but nonetheless approached Dmitri Simes, head of the Center for the National Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank founded by Richard Nixon, about setting up a meeting.
But Simes demurred, according to the report, citing the heightened media scrutiny surrounding Russia’s election interference.
Aven then dropped the matter. Putin didn’t.
The report says the Russian president “continued to inquire about Aven's efforts to connect to the Trump Administration in several subsequent quarterly meetings.”
Steve Hall, who served as the CIA’s chief of Russian operations during Barack Obama’s second term, told POLITICO that tasking oligarchs to conduct “hybrid wars and information operations” is par for the course for Putin.
But Hall, a public critic of Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community, said it is “inconceivable” that the oligarchs were Putin’s only method of infiltrating Trump’s inner circle.
“He’s going to rely on all the tools in his toolbox to go after these important targets,” he said.
Indeed, Mueller’s report includes a hefty section detailing the myriad ways Kremlin intermediaries — including fake online personas and others hiding their Moscow links — tried to woo those in and around the unlikely presidential candidate.
But the document did not address one of the most confounding mysteries that lingers from the election.
Alfa Bank, the institution Aven co-founded, had a computer server pinging a Trump Organization server during the 2016 race. The FBI reportedly investigated the pinging and said there could be an innocuous explanation, but never provided a conclusive reason for the server activity.
Still, where Aven failed, Dmitriev seemingly triumphed, using many of the same tactics.
Dmitriev scored meetings with both Erik Prince — an informal Trump campaign and transition team adviser — and a Kushner friend named Rick Gerson. Dmitriev, who Mueller says referred to Putin as his “boss,” worked with Gerson on the reconciliation proposal, implying that Putin had blessed the plan.
The offer apparently involved “jointly fighting terrorism” and “developing ‘win-win’ economic and investment initiatives.”
The Russian machinations portray “both how real that effort was and how much high-level buy-in it had within the Kremlin,” said Weiss. “And the fact that Kushner passed this along to Tillerson suggests that these policies were not a nonstarter — they had the attention of Trump’s senior-most staff.”
Dmitriev’s intermediary to Trump’s team was George Nader, a business associate who worked for the United Arab Emirates’ royal court.
Nader began cooperating with Mueller’s team in March 2018 and was given at least partial immunity for his testimony. Nader told Mueller that Dmitriev pressed him for an introduction to Kushner and Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Dmitriev, Nader said, wanted Nader to convey to the incoming Trump administration that Russia wanted “to start rebuilding the relationship in whatever is a comfortable pace for them.”
According to Mueller, Nader did just that over dinner with Erik Prince in January 2017. Prince then agreed to meet with Dmitriev in the Seychelles later that month.
In an interview with the House Intelligence Committee, however, Prince characterized that meeting as an impromptu encounter during an unrelated business trip. “I didn’t fly there to meet any Russian guy,” he told lawmakers.
He also told Congress that he met Dmitriev by chance at the bar and talked “over a beer.” According to Mueller, however, the two met in Nader’s villa for 30-45 minutes the same day Prince arrived. They met again at a restaurant to discuss Russia’s involvement in Libya.
And then there’s Sergey Gorkov, the CEO of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank.
Gorkov secured a meeting with Kushner in December 2016 through Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, who insisted that Kushner meet “with someone who had a direct line to Putin,” according to Mueller. Kushner told the special counsel that he could not remember them discussing sanctions, and investigators were apparently unable to establish the true nature of their conversation.
The meeting, however, like the others, appears to have had Putin’s blessing.
An investment bank executive who spoke with Gorkov before his trip to New York recalled Gorkov saying that the Russian president had approved of the meeting — and that he would be reporting back to Putin upon his return.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
RENO, Nev. (AP) - Reaction is breaking along partisan lines in Nevada after special counsel Robert Mueller's released his report concluding President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe but that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with obstruction of justice.
Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael ...
Presidents have long been uneasy with the press. Consider that Thomas Jefferson revealed he rarely thought newspapers were worth reading, and was weary of their "wretched guesswork"; the year was 1816. Abraham Lincoln called reporters "villainous" in 1858; Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed America had a "free and sensational press" in ...
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday that the special counsel's report is a clear invitation to Congress to impeach President Trump — and she's climbing on board the effort.
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It's only a flesh wound.
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In two years, President Trump went from despairing that his presidency would be destroyed by special counsel Robert Mueller's probe to exulting Thursday that his exoneration signifies "game over" for his partisan tormentors.
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The DCCC's plan to stop doing business with consultants who try to unseat Democratic incumbents could backfire in Georgia, where former congressional candidate Michael Owens said the threat from Washington has sparked interest in his potential challenge of Rep. David Scott.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina political consultant has been formally charged in an investigation of statehouse corruption.
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WASHINGTON (AP) - To Donald Trump, the start of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation looked alarmingly like the end of his presidency. So he tried to stop it.
His months-long effort pushed the boundaries of presidential powers and the law, revealing a commander in chief consumed by self-interest and intent ...
Key Democrats are lobbying to block any additional money from going toward what they call President Trump's cruel immigration enforcement policies, saying they won't be complicit in helping his strict interpretation of enforcing the laws.
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NEW YORK (AP) - Special counsel Robert Mueller's long-awaited report outlined Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But Mueller did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government, and he made no conclusion on the question of whether the president obstructed justice....
Special counsel Robert Mueller was able to complete his investigation because President Donald Trump let him, the president asserted Thursday afternoon, in his first public reaction since Mueller’s report was released hours earlier.
“I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!”
Trump was initially mum after Mueller’s report into Russian interference during the 2016 election went public Thursday morning, declining to answer questions from reporters as he left the White House for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
His supporters stayed on message throughout the day, however, asserting that the report exonerated the president of any malfeasance. The redacted report does not establish that Trump coordinated with Russia to win the election, but it did reveal multiple instances where the president tried to thwart investigations into 2016.
Trump has long decried the probes as an illegal, partisan “witch hunt” against him. Following Attorney General William Barr’s March 24 release of a four-page summary of the 448-page report, Trump heralded the investigation as a total exoneration, wanting to flip the script by investigating Democrats and federal officials who advanced the probe.
Brad Parscale, campaign manager of the Trump reelection campaign, maintained in a statement Thursday that the report completely absolved the president. He furthered a claim by Barr that spying occurred on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, portraying the president as the true victim.
“Now the tables have turned, and it’s time to investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation into President Trump, motivated by political retribution and based on no evidence whatsoever,” the statement said.
But on Thursday afternoon, the president’s tone changed tack toward maintaining his own innocence.
“‘Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not Obstruction,’” Trump tweeted, quoting Fox News’ Jesse Watters.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Robert Mueller’s report reveals a stunning array of new allegations against President Donald Trump. But one thing remains the same: House Democrats are ducking any talk of impeachment.
After interviews with 15 lawmakers Thursday, it’s clear Democrats think the report is severely damaging to the president, with substantial evidence that he attempted to derail the Russia probe. But it’s still not enough to pull the trigger on the most consequential — and politically risky — action Democrats could take in their new majority: trying to forcibly eject Trump from office.
“Election time is when you beat Trump,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a senior member of the party’s progressive wing who was an early supporter of impeachment efforts last Congress.
“Right now, he’s got enough protection around him from the top lawyer in the country to keep him in office," Grijalva added, referring to Attorney General William Barr, who has come under a barrage of criticism from Democrats over his handling of the report's release.
For two years, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats deferred impeachment questions until after the special counsel’s investigation concluded. But after Mueller showed at least 10 instances where Trump may have committed obstruction of justice — and ostensibly met the “high crimes and misdemeanors” threshold previously laid out by several Democrats — Pelosi and her top deputies were notably restrained. They issued short statements and made few, if any, media appearances.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 Democrat, told CNN. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.”
Yet that stance only further exposes the divide between the party’s liberal base eager to oust the president and a seasoned leadership team fearful that such a move could cost them the House.
Several lawmakers, including Pelosi, used the first leg of the two-week congressional recess to travel overseas, avoiding the political storm in Washington after the report’s release Thursday.
And even some of the most fervent supporters of ousting Trump said the Mueller report’s explosive findings have done little to move Democrats closer to launching the impeachment process — particularly when the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to join Democrats and remove the president from office.
“I think that Speaker Pelosi doesn’t think it’s worth going forward politically when there will not be a conviction... For a lot of people in swing districts and all, it’s probably easier for them to take that position,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who previously introduced articles of impeachment against Trump.
“I don’t know that we’d have a majority, anywhere near a majority, willing to stand up and oppose the speaker and take a position that could be adverse to maintaining the House,” he added.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who was first to file articles of impeachment against Trump in 2017, said he felt “vindicated” that Mueller cited several examples where Trump obstructed justice. But he conceded that the political will to oust Trump still wasn’t there in Congress.
“A lot of progressives are saying what’s the matter with you guys, what’s it going to take?” Sherman said. “The legal case is there. The political case is still to be made.”
Pelosi effectively took impeachment off the table earlier this year, saying impeaching Trump is “just not worth it.” And she and other top Democrats notably avoided any nod to impeachment in statements released after Mueller’s report went live on Thursday.
Rank-and-file lawmakers were also quick to stress that the Mueller report is useful for the sprawling investigations Democrats have launched on Trump’s administration, personal finances and business interests in a half-dozen committees. But, they said, the conclusion of the Mueller report is not an automatic trigger for impeachment.
"A systematic effort to obstruct justice would clearly be an impeachable offense. The Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for obstructing justice over one lie," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment would begin. "But I don't think we're there yet. We are still in the assembling-of-facts phase."
Another member of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), said Democrats “have to engage in our own report and investigation” stemming from Mueller’s findings. But she said those efforts weren’t specifically in pursuit of impeaching Trump.
“We are not going to close in on the i-word,” Jackson Lee said in an interview. “We’re going to close in on the most detailed investigation possible and that means individuals who may have been interviewed by Mueller, and those who may have not.”
Among outside groups on the left, the release of the Mueller report was akin to a starter pistol signaling the race to impeach Trump should begin now — a totally different message than the one coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“Despite Attorney General Bill Barr’s redactions and spin, it is clear that the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be considered an impeachment referral for obstruction of justice by the President of the United States, akin to Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s ‘roadmap’ detailing troubling actions by President Richard Nixon," said the Center for American Progress' "Moscow Project."
At least one Democrat said her mind was also changed by the Mueller report. Rep. Norma Torres of California said in an interview she is now backing impeachment calls for the first time, saying she “absolutely” believes the president obstructed justice.
“We need to move forward with an impeachment,” Torres said. “This is a big deal for me.”
But Torres, a member of the more moderate New Democrat Coalition, also said she understands why some of her colleagues would be apprehensive to move in that direction, given the huge political risks.
“We are so close to the election. It’s a very difficult place to be,” Torres said.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most high-profile Democrats in the caucus, tweeted Thursday that she would be signing onto an impeachment resolution introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).
But other key progressives were reserved. Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “everything should be on the table” but doesn’t believe it will require removing Trump from office before November 2020.
“I am certain that Congress has additional action we need to take, but we need to follow the proper processes,” Pocan said. “It doesn’t have to be impeachment, it can be other hearings.”
For most Democrats interviewed, the next obvious step is hearing from Mueller himself. Democrats have been quick to rip Barr for his handling of the report — first for issuing a four-page summary last month and then holding a press conference hours before the probe was made public — which they said was misleading and a clear attempt to protect Trump.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter Thursday requesting Mueller testify before his panel within the next month.
“It’s too early to talk about that,” Nadler told reporters Thursday when asked about impeachment. “That’s one possibility. There are others.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has previously supported impeachment, said there was “no question” in her mind that Mueller and his team helped prove that Trump has committed crimes.
“I think it potentially does rise to that standard, but again, I want to interview Mueller,” Speier said, when asked about impeachment. She also declined to say what specific evidence should prompt Democrats to begin that process.
“If we’re doing our job, being a check and balance on the president, the special counsel has laid out a roadmap for us,” Speier said.
Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
The Justice Department will make a less-redacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller's report available to key members of Congress next week, an assistant attorney general said in a letter Thursday evening — though he insisted the information the lawmakers see must remain secret.
The so-called Gang of Eight — ...
When ousted FBI Director James Comey delivered damaging testimony to Congress in 2017, attracting nationwide attention, White House aides insisted that President Donald Trump’s mood was “light.”
Shortly after news broke that Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Russian nationals promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump reported that the vibe in the White House was “fantastic.”
And after Republicans lost the House in last year’s midterm elections, Trump’s advisers countered that the president was feeling “buoyant.” In a subsequent cable news interview, Trump added that he was “extremely upbeat.”
For more than two years, the president and his team have been dutifully forking over questionable anecdotes about the president’s persistent good spirits in the face of a constant stream of stories about the dismal morale in the West Wing and Trump’s propensity for lashing out.
On Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller backed up the plentiful anonymous accounts of turmoil in the White House — only he got it all on the record.
Across 488 pages, Mueller’s team recounted scores of interviews in which Trump’s advisers described a president obsessed over the investigations encircling him, often expressing frustration — and even despair — when things weren’t going his way.
"Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm fucked,” Trump said when he found out that the Justice Department would be appointing a special counsel to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to notes taken by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff.
And repeatedly, the report shows Trump pressuring his aides to refute accurate press accounts or deceive the public about what actually happened behind the scenes.
Last year, Trump fumed after The New York Times broke the news that the president urged White House counsel Don McGahn to oust Mueller, an order McGahn refused to carry out. Trump complained to an aide that the story was “bullshit” and called McGahn a "lying bastard.” He later met with McGahn at the White House to urge him to deny the story.
“The President asked McGahn whether he would ‘do a correction,’ and McGahn said no. McGahn thought the President was testing his mettle to see how committed McGahn was to what happened,” the report says. Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly called the meeting “a little tense.”
The president also appeared to be deeply bothered by Comey’s May 2017 testimony before Congress in which he declined to say whether the president was under investigation.
“The President became very upset and directed his anger at Sessions,” the report said, adding that he allegedly told Sessions, "This is terrible Jeff. It's all because you recused. AG is supposed to be most important appointment. Kennedy appointed his brother. Obama appointed Holder. I appointed you and you recused yourself. You left me on an island. I can't do anything."
The accounts are notable because they are on the record. If the officials had lied to Mueller’s team, they could face criminal prosecution — unlike White House aides who regularly spin their own version of events to reporters.
Yet even before Mueller’s detailed accounting of the pivotal moments of Trump’s presidency was made public, White House aides’ assurances that the president is taking everything in stride often seemed suspect. The president regularly unleashes on Twitter, sometimes just hours after his staff casts him as calm and collected, dismissing the probe as a “witch hunt” and portraying himself as an unfairly targeted victim.
“The Greatest Political Hoax of all time!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
One former Trump administration official told POLITICO that the president is often in a sour mood, but isn't the angry tyrant he's sometimes described as, noting that he sometimes shies away from direct confrontation. But the former official said the notion that he's always even-keeled is laughable, adding that he is frequently focused on his ever-growing list of grievances.
Still, White House aides remain deeply frustration with the constant focus on Trump’s state of mind, a form of palace intrigue reporting that has come under criticism from some in the media as well. They say the caricature of the president stalking around the West Wing yelling is simply overblown.
True to form, Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to the president and one of his most steadfast defenders, disputed on Thursday the assertion in the report that Trump feared his presidency was over when Mueller was appointed.
“I was very surprised to see that because that was not the reaction of the president that day when I was there and he has never — there are words where the president’s quoted throughout the report where he doesn’t use those words,” said Conway, who was not in the meeting where the outburst allegedly took place.
As for how Trump is reacting to Thursday’s report?
“The president’s in a great mood,” Conway said.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
BOSTON — Joe Biden said on Thursday that it was time to “take back” the country and treat the middle class with respect, as the former vice president warms up for a likely 2020 presidential run.
“I’m getting so sick and tired of the way everybody’s being treated,” Biden told a crowd of striking union workers here. “We will take back this country. … I mean it. Don’t give up. Keep it going.”
Biden made the remarks at a union rally in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, where some of the 31,000 union workers for the New England-based Stop & Shop supermarket chain walked off the job last week after contract negotiations fell apart.
He laid out a vision for “decent health care,” a “fair wage” and retirement during his 10-minute speech in the rain. The appearance was Biden’s latest trip to fire up pro-union Democrats. Last month, he spoke to a firefighters legislative conference in Washington and hinted at his presidential plans.
“Workers are not being treated across the board with dignity. They’re not being treated like they matter,” Biden told a crowd of hundreds on Thursday. Several people held “Run Joe Run"” signs and yelled “Mr. President” at Biden when he pulled up to the rally in an S.U.V.
Biden called the middle class a “values set” and railed against Wall Street bankers, CEOs and President Donald Trump’s tax cuts. The former vice president appeared alongside Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a political ally and fellow pro-union Democrat. It’s unclear whether Walsh would endorse Biden over 2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who backed Walsh’s reelection bid in 2017.
“People are busting their necks,” Biden said. “People go out and make a living, people who play by the rules, people who have done everything they’re supposed to do. And people are entitled to be treated with respect and decency and fairness.”
After Biden was criticized for being too physical in his interactions with women several weeks ago, Walsh came to Biden’s defense, calling him an “emotional person.”
“We live in a tough world right now, to be honest with you,” Walsh said of the criticism against Biden.
Several hours before Biden hit the Stop & Shop picket line, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was released. Biden told reporters he’d not had a chance to read it before his visit to Boston.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A federal judge has denied a request from a Tennessee lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct to publicly name the student who has filed a lawsuit against the Republican.
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - "Real Housewives of New Jersey" husband Joe Giudice (JOO'-dys) has lost his appeal to avoid deportation to Italy.
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Democrats were apoplectic and demanding consequences Thursday after it became clear that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report undercut some of Attorney General William Barr’s key claims about the obstruction of justice investigation into President Donald Trump.
“Turns out Bill Barr lied through his teeth,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which intends to hear from Barr on May 2.
Democrats on the powerful panel, and other congressional investigators, say Barr repeatedly misled them and the public for nearly a month about Mueller’s obstruction inquiry, most notably on whether the special counsel intended to leave the tricky determination to Congress.
One, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), called for Barr’s resignation. Another, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), said Barr should be censured. And others simply excoriated the attorney general.
“Essentially Bill Barr has already resigned,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary panel. “He’s acting like a federally paid public defender.”
Democrats are particularly incensed that Barr seemed to indicate publicly that Mueller had not intended for Congress to resolve the thorny legal questions surrounding whether a president can obstruct justice. The Judiciary Committee has already launched its own obstruction inquiry, and Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) plans to issue a subpoena for all of Mueller’s underlying evidence and grand jury information that could be used as part of the congressional probe.
“Special counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress,” Barr said at a news conference Thursday morning before the report was made public. “I hope that was not his view, because we don’t convene grand juries and conduct criminal investigations for that purpose.”
But in his report, Mueller repeatedly referenced Congress’ authority to determine whether a president acted corruptly to harm the nation. Mueller concluded that “Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords.”
“We concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” Mueller wrote.
Nadler, for his part, said it was clear to him that Barr was “disingenuous and misleading” in his public statements and his four-page summary of the Mueller investigation, which was released nearly a month ago. He vowed to charge ahead with his committee’s obstruction investigation.
“I think [the report] was probably written with the intent of providing Congress a roadmap,” added Nadler, who earlier Thursday formally invited Mueller to testify before his committee.
One top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, though, said that Barr had acted appropriately and that Mueller’s report should end the conversation about the president’s actions.
“Bob Mueller chose not to indict. That’s the bottom line,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. “Congress should be focused on the fact that this thing started on a faulty premise.”
“This attorney general has handled himself in exactly the way the American people want,” Jordan added. “He has followed the law.”
But discrepancies between Barr’s public statements and testimony continued to rankle Democrats.
For example, in a March 24 letter to lawmakers, Barr suggested that Mueller presented innocent explanations for every possible example of obstruction of justice. In fact, in several instances in Mueller’s report, the special counsel presented evidence that Trump had met the legal standards for obstruction, with no mitigating evidence or alternative explanations. Those include his description of Trump’s effort to get the White House counsel at the time, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller, and his efforts to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intervene in and constrain Mueller’s investigation.
In addition, Mueller’s report laid out, in painstaking detail, evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct his investigation, but said his team opted not to “draw ultimate conclusions” because of Justice Department guidelines that prohibit criminally charging a sitting president.
Barr, though, downplayed the suggestion that those guidelines played a significant role in Mueller’s analysis.
“We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion,” Barr said Thursday morning, referring to the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. “And he made it very clear, several times, that that was not his position.”
But Mueller’s report made a painstaking legal case suggesting that he had predetermined not to level an obstruction allegation against Trump because he would be unable to formally charge him. An unchargeable allegation, he said, could unfairly taint Trump’s ability to govern and deprive him of the legal protections afforded to criminal defendants, who get a chance in court to clear their names.
“When the attorney general mischaracterizes the report in that way, he does a disservice to the country,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Swalwell, a Judiciary Committee member, said Barr should resign.
“He’s embedded deeply into the Trump team, and that affects the credibility that the attorney general must have,” Swalwell said in an interview on MSNBC.
It’s also possible for the committee to launch an impeachment proceeding against Barr. But Cohen said such an inquiry would be futile because the Republican-controlled Senate isn’t likely to support it. Cohen suggested a censure, which amounts to a formal admonishment in the House.
“If there’s such a tactic, a means, a process that can be used for the House to show it’s concern, disdain and disapproval,” Cohen said, “I think we should do it.”
Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren is demanding answers from the Pentagon's top general on the department's conclusions on the threat of climate change to the U.S. military.
In a letter to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Massachusetts Democrat requested answers to an ...
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state's efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.
The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration's request to block law enforcement from providing ...
President Trump on Thursday honored wounded veterans participating in an annual cycling event to show the strength and spirit of soldiers recovering from the battlefield.
In the East Room of the White House with 29 wounded veterans, Mr. Trump praised their courage and their determination to come back from their ...
The White House’s top lawyer testified that President Donald Trump told him to do some “crazy shit.” Trump’s press secretary acknowledged deceiving reporters about the rationale for firing FBI Director James Comey. And his senior advisers worried that Trump held onto his attorney general’s resignation letter in a bid to exert control over the Justice Department.
The bounty of juicy revelations sprinkled throughout Robert Mueller’s 448-page report may not take down the president. But they could make things very awkward for the Trump associates who cooperated with the investigation.
The president’s closest advisers spoke at length to Mueller’s team, providing the fullest accounting to date of the most controversial moments in Trump’s White House — and unlike the parade of journalistic exposes on the president, it’s all on the record.
Nor was what Washington often politely calls “spin” an option. Their accounts were provided to Mueller’s team under penalty of law; it is a crime to lie to the FBI, and several Trump associates have been charged with that crime over the past two years.
Even so, some in Trump's orbit predicted a presidential displeasure.
“It’s a major breach of loyalty,” said a former Trump campaign staffer. “Many people who rose with him who’ve never been in this world before back-stabbed him. So of course’s he’s gonna feel betrayed.”
Even before the report was released on Thursday, the cadre of Trump aides and advisers who talked to Mueller were worried about being outed. It turns out, their fears were not unfounded. In page after page, Mueller attributes revelations about everything from Comey’s firing to Trump’s fury at Jeff Sessions directly to the one-time Trump loyalists who were in the room.
The people close to Trump who offered damaging or embarrassing testimony include his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, his 2016 deputy campaign manager and confidante Corey Lewandowski, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Trump ally.
At times, Trump’s aides seem to treat him like he can’t be trusted to run the country. In one scene recreated in the report, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior counselor Steve Bannon worry that Trump held onto Sessions’ 2017 resignation letter as leverage over the Justice Department.
“Priebus told Sessions it was not good for the President to have the letter because it would function as a kind of ‘shock collar’ that the President could use any time he wanted; Priebus said the President had "DOJ by the throat,” the report says.
The president’s staff repeatedly recount episodes when they ignored Trump’s requests, hoping that he would move on to other things. For example, the report documents several instances in which former West Wing officials or Trump associates told investigators they were uncomfortable with tasks that had been assigned to them by the president or colleagues.
Rick Dearborn, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, told investigators that he was once asked by ex-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to inform the attorney general that the president wanted the scope of Mueller’s investigation to be limited to “future election interference,” according to the report. Trump had initially asked Lewandowski — with whom he still speaks regularly — to deliver the message. Ultimately he and Dearborn both declined to follow through because doing so made them uncomfortable, according to the report.
Christie, who also speaks with Trump, recounted to Mueller's investigators that Trump seemed to believe firing Flynn would rid him of the questions about Russia collusion. “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump said according to Christie, recounting a 2017 conversation. Christie disagreed, countering that Flynn would be “like gum on the bottom of your shoe."
Another episode contained in the report highlights the president’s early attempts to end the Russia probe by asking staff if they thought that certain individuals he was considering putting in charge of the probe would agree to ensure its timely conclusion. Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter “recalled that the President asked him if [then-Associate Attorney General Rachel] Brand was good, tough, and ‘on the team,’” the report states, adding that Trump later told Porter to “keep in touch” with Brand, a personal friend, and “sound her out about taking responsibility for the investigation” and being promoted to Attorney General.
“Porter did not reach out to [Brand] because he was uncomfortable with the task… [and] understood the President to want to find someone to end the Russia investigation or fire the Special Counsel,” the report continued.
Porter appeared to have cooperated heavily with the special counsel’s investigation, even providing contemporaneous notes documenting key moments that Mueller was digging into.
In other cases, the contents of the report underscore the credibility issues that some Trump officials have faced throughout their tenure. Sanders, who has repeatedly been accused of making false statements to reporters and contradicting the president’s legal team, acknowledged when she sat down with investigators that a statement she made to the press in May 2017 was entirely unfounded.
“Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue,’” the report said, referencing Sanders’ claim in May 2017 that members of the law enforcement agency had confided in White House officials that they no longer had confidence in the FBI’s recently fired director, James Comey.
“She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything,” the report said.
Some former and current Trump aides who cooperated with federal investigators over the course of the special counsel probe grew increasingly nervous in the days leading up to the report’s release, knowing their testimony would be available for public consumption and carefully examined by the media. Even as some officials said they were confident the full report would further vindicate the president, they privately feared that it might jeopardize their own relationships with him.
It became clear to many aides when the report dropped on Thursday that their identities would not be protected or difficult to decipher. Instead, many of the embarrassing details that officials shared with Mueller’s team about their interactions with Trump were on full display.
In contrast to aides who agreed to meet with Mueller, those who refused to sit down for an interview with the special counsel — and in some cases, were compelled to testify before a grand jury instead — received greater protection in the report due to the scope of the redactions.
Trump has been known to lash out at associates who he believes have shown him disloyalty. But people who cooperated with the investigation counter privately that they had little choice but to participate, and they add they were compelled to be truthful or face potential prosecution.
So far, Trump has held his fire.
Asked on Thursday how the president felt about so many of his former aides speaking so candidly in the report, Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump adviser, shrugged and walked away. But Conway, speaking to reporters earlier, appeared to sneak in a dig at the aides who talked to Mueller. Pressed about the revelation that Trump considered ousting Mueller, but was stopped by his aides, Conway shot back, “He has certainly fired a lot of people here, including people who are quoted through the report polishing apples if you ask me.”
Trump’s family members and allies immediately claimed victory, despite the report’s many potentially damaging revelations.
The president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., for example, was gleeful. Mueller opted not to charge him and others close to the president over a 2016 meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton because prosecutors believed they couldn’t prove they “willfully violated the law.”
"After 2 years of the media and Democrats repeatedly claiming without evidence that he would be indicted for perjury, Don feels totally vindicated after today," said a person close to Donald Trump, Jr. "He bought some popcorn and is spending his day enjoying the media meltdown."
Nancy Cook contributed to this story.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state's efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.
The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration's request to block law enforcement from ...
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - An Alaska man with a ghost-hunting history has scared off lawmakers, who rejected his nomination to a compensation board for crime victims.
The Legislature late Wednesday voted 9-48 to reject Gov. Mike Dunleavy's nomination of John Francis to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board.
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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told special counsel investigators that she misled the press about the reason President Donald Trump fired former FBI director James Comey in May 2017, when she told reporters “countless” FBI agents had lost confidence in the agency’s leader.
The revelation was just one of many brought to light Thursday when the Justice Department published a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
According to Mueller’s report, on May 10, 2017 — the day after Comey was fired — Sanders told reporters that the president, lawmakers and DOJ officials had lost confidence in Comey.
“Most importantly,” she added, “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
In response to a reporter’s question citing widespread support for Comey among the bureau’s agents, Sanders said: “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
Mueller's report said: “Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything."
The White House press secretary told the special counsel in 2018 that her reference to “countless members” had been a “slip of the tongue” and said her comment about rank-and-file agents’ loss of confidence was made in “the heat of the moment,” according to the report.
Sanders did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Mueller’s team scrutinized Trump’s decision to fire Comey as part of an attempt to determine whether the president intended to obstruct justice, a conclusion the special counsel ultimately did not offer. The report said investigators found “substantial evidence” that Trump dismissed the FBI director for his “unwillingness to state that the president was not personally under investigation” by the special counsel.
The report references multiple occasions on which the president or his aides offered a variety of reasons for Comey’s firing, citing the FBI director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and low morale within the bureau.
Trump also said FBI morale was at “an all-time low” in his draft termination letter, a claim he contradicted during an earlier dinner with Comey when he told the bureau director “the people of the FBI really like” him, according to the report.
“No evidence suggests that the President heard otherwise before deciding to terminate,” Comey, the report said.
Mueller’s report also said after her briefing on Comey, Sanders spoke with the president “who told her she did a good job and did not point out any inaccuracies in her comments.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is likely to provide a slight boost to the American economy, the U.S. International Trade Commission said Thursday in a long-anticipated analysis of the Trump administration’s signature trade accomplishment.
The new pact, which President Donald Trump has portrayed as a “truly groundbreaking achievement,” would raise U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion, or 0.35 percent, by the sixth year after it enters into force, the independent panel found. The USMCA would also create 176,000 U.S. jobs, increasing employment by 0.12 percent, according to the analysis.
The ITC’s highly anticipated assessment of the replacement deal for NAFTA is expected to drive debate as the USMCA is considered on Capitol Hill and discussed in 2020 election campaigns. But the report’s forecast of a minimal increase in the GDP could make it more difficult for Trump to sell the deal to Democrats and labor groups, who have been pushing for a number of changes before the agreement gets a vote.
Administration officials previously sought to minimize expectations because the ITC report was widely expected to be a marginal headline number. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that the report’s details were less important than its release, which checks off an important procedural step in the USMCA ratification process.
Shortly before the ITC report was released on Thursday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative put out an analysis of the deal's projected impact on the U.S. auto sector that forecast the creation of roughly 76,000 U.S. automotive jobs over the next five years — a figure nearly three times what the ITC found.
The ITC analysis shows that changes to NAFTA's automotive rules of origin, or rules governing how much of a car must be sourced from within North America in order to receive tariff-free treatment, would have some of the most significant effects on the U.S. economy of any aspect of the new pact.
The new rules would lead to a net increase of 28,000 full-time U.S. jobs in the auto sector, the ITC found. The overall projections for the auto sector, however, are mixed: Stricter rules are estimated to slightly increase U.S. production of automotive parts and employment, but they will also cause a small increase in prices for consumers and a modest decrease in U.S. vehicle consumption. The new rules would also “draw resources away from other manufacturing sectors and the rest of the U.S. economy, driving up production costs from other sectors,” the ITC found.
The ITC found that another part of the deal that will have a significant impact on the U.S. economy is new rules governing digital trade, which are expected to reduce uncertainty and boost e-commerce.
The replacement deal for NAFTA “would likely have a positive impact on all broad industry sectors within the U.S. economy,” the ITC said in the congressionally mandated study.
Under the new deal, manufacturing would see the largest percentage gains across the board — in wages, employment, output and exports, the report said. Services would also experience major gains in output and employment.
U.S. exports to Canada would increase by $19.1 billion, or 5.9 percent, while imports from Canada would go up by the same amount. Exports to Mexico would increase by $14.2 billion, or 6.7 percent, the ITC said. U.S. imports from Mexico would increase by $12.4 billion.
The report factors in the Trump administration continuing its tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and Canada, as well as other U.S. trade policies that were in place when the deal was signed by the three countries in November.
Many lawmakers have been eagerly awaiting the independent agency’s analysis of the USMCA and several have said they will examine the report closely before making up their minds on how they will vote for the deal.
Others have been more circumspect. Asked before the report’s release on Thursday whether it would shift the debate on the USMCA on Capitol Hill, Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) responded simply: “No.”
Release of the ITC report removes one of the remaining procedural hurdles before Congress can consider the new trade deal. The report is required under the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which allows Trump to submit trade deals to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote without amendments.
The timetable for Congress to consider USMCA remains in flux, however. The Trump administration still needs to submit to Congress the final USMCA text, a draft statement of administrative action and implementing legislation.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said the administration won't submit implementing legislation without House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's approval.
The report was originally set to be released in March but was delayed after the 35-day partial government shutdown.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - The Latest on New Mexico's response to the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border (all times local):
Santa Fe officials are preparing to assist and temporarily house asylum-seekers passing through New Mexico after crossing the U.S-Mexico border.
The Santa Fe New Mexican ...
Veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign reacted with a mix of outrage, vindication and exhaustion after the release of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the last presidential election.
“Apparently it’s not criminal to help foreign agents carry out their plans to disrupt an election,” said campaign manager Robby Mook. “I wish instead of just re-litigating the past we would spend some time crafting laws to prevent this in the future.”
Mueller’s report detailed a comprehensive effort by Russia to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and repeated overtures to Donald Trump’s campaign to assist him. Mueller found contacts between the Trump associates and Russians but wrote that “the investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The report also revealed Trump’s intense interest in obtaining emails that Clinton had deleted from her private email server on the grounds that they were personal in nature and not related to her work as secretary of state. Some on the right believed the missing emails would contain shocking revelations, but the Trump campaign never acquired them.
“After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would ‘find the 30,000 emails that are missing,’ Trump asked individuals affiliated with his campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” Mueller wrote. “Michael Flynn -- who would later serve as national security adviser in the Trump administration -- recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.”
Jesse Ferguson, a senior spokesperson on the Clinton campaign, said that the “no collusion” headline belied the more damning parts of the report. “Aside from Trump’s scandal, corruption and potential criminality in the Mueller report, it also confirms that Trump got elected thanks to an extensive Russian infiltration and operation.”
And Clinton spokespeople Jennifer Palmieri and Brian Fallon tweeted that impeachment hearings ought to be opened.
"If all this same info were coming out for first time, it would be an earthquake. Impeachment hearings would be a no-brainer," Fallon wrote.
“It would be a grave mistake for the country if Democrats in House allowed short-term political concerns to get in way of conducting their constitutional responsibility to hold president accountable,” wrote Palmieri. “Abdication of such responsibilities is how democracies die.”
In a series of tweets, longtime Clinton aide Neera Tanden also said that the report did not exonerate Trump, equating him to a "mob boss" and suggesting that there had been a "cover up" over the last several weeks after Mueller submitted his report.
The documentation of the comprehensive Russian campaign made some former Clinton aides feel vindicated after they felt their warnings of Russian interference during the election year were not taken seriously enough.
The report, however, did not corroborate several of the Russia-Trump connections claimed in the so-called "Steele dossier," an opposition research document funded through a law firm representing the Democratic National Committee during the campaign. Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent hired by research firm Fusion GPS, reported that Russia had compromising tapes of Trump and that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had met Russian officials in Prague during the campaign.
The dossier's partisan origins became a talking point for Republicans as they sought to dismiss the entire Russia probe as a fishing expedition. It set off a mad frenzy of reporting on Trump’s purported ties to Russia when it was first published by Buzzfeed after the 2016 election, though journalists were never able to confirm or conclusively debunk its more salacious allegations.
Mueller was able to be more definitive. The report states flatly, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false."
The special counsel’s team also looked at the allegation that the Kremlin had a recording of Trump frolicking with prostitutes in Moscow, though he did not make a determination as to whether it happened. According to interviews with prosecutors, Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze told Cohen on October 30, 2016, that he had “stopped flow of tapes from Russia.” But Rtskhiladze later said he believed the tapes were fake and didn’t tell Cohen that, according to Mueller’s team.
Some Clinton hands said the report should also be a warning sign to all Democrats looking to take on Trump in the next presidential election.
“This should be a reminder to all 2020 opponents that you aren’t dealing with a normal candidate. They are playing incredibly dirty,” said Adrienne Elrod, the campaign’s director of strategic communications and surrogates.
Elrod also said the report should be used as a roadmap for congressional investigations rather than the end of the matter. “This is far from over.”
Some Clinton aides, however, just felt tired of looking back on the 2016 election and were avoiding reading news about the Mueller report. Asked if they had any thoughts, one texted: “Sigh. Not really. Trying not to pay attention.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada political observers say Democratic leadership wanted to avoid a divisive and hot-button debate this session over the death penalty. It's an issue they say moderate Democrats have a hard time fully embracing in a state with a history of law-and-order politics.
Professor Fred Lokken ...
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